Tardy Presents. Embodied Agency in the ‘documental’ poetry of Péret and Porchia,

Gys-Walt Van Egdom

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In this article, we want to explore the transformation of poetry into a document of the body, which interconnects the historical avant-garde with other experimental literature throughout the twentieth century. We aim to confront different poetic views on this documentation of the body, by juxtaposing the case of the French surrealist Benjamin Péret, who celebrated the desiring 'flesh' as the driving force of his automatic writing, and that of the Argentinian Antonio Porchia who, in an orientalist fashion, made use of poetry to do away with desire. We will contend that, despite obvious differences, both authors share the belief that not ideality, but physicality is paramount to human existence. This conviction permeates their practice of writing with its intricate documentary promise of presentness and immediacy.
In the first part of this paper, we will discuss the life-long dedication of Benjamin Péret (1899-1959) to automatic writing. According to Péret, the hand has to pick up a pen and scribble down whatever comes into mind. In this way, Péret attempts to undo realistic representation in literature which he thinks is complicit with the rational worldview of the bourgeoisie, in order to set free the suppressed forces of sexuality, violence and laughter. It will be shown that this 'écriture automatique' is very much indebted not only to psychoanalysis but also to contemporary scientific research on automatic behaviour, which redefines the writing act as an habitual, distracted mode of language production.
Later on, attention will be drawn to the writings of Antonio Porchia (1885-1968). In his work, Porchia not only brackets reason, but, in contradistinction to Péret, he also makes abstraction of the irrational. By doing so, he places the being-there (Dasein) of being, under erasure and clears the pathway for what we might call ‘objective’ poetry , i.e. poetry that cannot be anchored in a subjective source, but that is also not totally devoid of a corporeal dimension. For this very reason and in spite of Porchia’s resistance to literary and religious influences, his paradoxical ‘poem-sentences’ have often been related to Zen Buddhism and Taoism.
After having offered a brief overview of the poetics of both Péret and Porchia, we will have elucidated the relation of both writers vis-à-vis corporeality, and we will be able to connect this information to the documentary function of literature. This will enable us to reflect upon how the intense bodily presence of the writing act is documented in the poem as a tardy present.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLiterature and the Notion of “Document”.
Subtitle of host publicationHybrid and Visual Paths in Western Literature of the 1930s
EditorsSarah Bonciarelli, Anne Reverseau, Carmen Van den Bergh
Place of PublicationAmsterdam/New York
PublisherAmsterdam/New York: Rodopi
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2015

Publication series

Name Textxet. Studies in comparative literature.


  • Document
  • Poetry
  • Antonio Porchia
  • Benjamin Péret
  • surrealism
  • écriture automatique
  • écriture acousmatique

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